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Creosote Creep

Creosote Creep

Is your beautifully landscaped garden poisoning you and your loved ones? The suggestion seems far-fetched until one considers the potential impact that creosote-treated wood can have on surrounding soil - and your health.


Creosote was used extensively around the world as a wood preservative. The most common is the coal tar variety and is used extensively to protect railway sleepers, telegraph and fence poles as well as docks in coastal areas and even lumber used in construction. 


It’s a thick and oily liquid that is made up of hundreds of chemicals. Although it has been very effective at preventing wood from rotting when exposed to moisture, it was also deemed to be a probable human carcinogen by the EPA. Other effects of exposure and or ingestion include lung irritation, eye damage, increased sensitivity to sunlight, stomach pains, convulsions, kidney damage and in severe cases even death.


According to the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, whether creosote makes you sick will depend in part on several factors including the level of exposure as well as its duration and frequency. It adds that some groups are more sensitive to creosote than others - ie the elderly, children and pregnant women.


Adding to the toxic mix is the fact that asbestos was used extensively in the UK railway industry, including the use of asbestos train brake linings, which deposited the deadly fibres on to the sleepers below. Although the use of asbestos across the UK rail network has been largely phased out since the turn of the century, many old sleepers predate that.


Ironically, gardeners and landscapers turned to railway sleepers ostensibly because they were a more natural seeming option than plastic or even metal. But their potential downside is considerable. As we often say at Safe Soil UK: Why chance it? Test it!


The Creosote Creep testing suite takes in a variety of elements present in coal-tar creosote and by extension in used railway sleepers:

  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • Phenols 
  • Arsenic
  • Copper 
  • Asbestos (qualitative)


Please note that if you are concerned about more broad soil contamination in your growing space, the following may be more appropriate testing packages to consider:

Standard Contamination Test

Basic Metals Screen

Advanced Contamination Suite


    We will send you a testing kit that includes a soil sample bag and instructions on how to take a sample from your growing space. When you're done, place the two-thirds full sample bag back in the box that will have a pre-paid postage label already affixed, seal it and pop the package into a Royal Mail post box or drop it off at a local post office.

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